Against all odds, the German war machine continued to do amazing things despite overwhelming odds on the East Front. As the Russians invaded Poland and reached the Oder River not far from Berlin, Hitler ordered his last offensives to try to turn the tide. The biggest of these was in Hungary, where the last of the 6thSS Panzer Army gathered in a useless attack in mud and snow toward the last remaining oil fields Germany had used, even though, oil production had ceased. This offensive was entitled, Spring Awakening. It was doomed to fail and it did by March 15th.
However, a much smaller offensive was at the rail junction at Lauben after the Russian juggernaut had taken much of Poland in a grand offensive that ripped apart the German front lines in Silesia. With some cities, Hitler declared them fortresses, one was Breslau, which held out until WW2 ended. It became known as "Hitler's Stalingrad".
Operation Gemse (goat) was a hastily planned offensive from Gorltiz to Lowenberg with the last strong units in the area. The Russian spearhead that had reached the area was the 3rd Guards Tank Army with around 400 armored vehicles by Mid-February, 1945. The unit was not at its strongest. Its 9th Mechanized Corps only had 48 operational tanks; its 7th Guards Tank Corps had only 55 tanks. These levels were very low. This Russian army had been ordered to seize Gorlitz (another Hitler fortress city) and Lauban with its critical rail junction.
The Germans also wanted to maintain control of Lauban for a planned relief attack towards Breslau and its rail junction was needed. The plan was simple since the Russians had reached Lauban by the 18th, that is, attack from the flanks and encircle the Russian spearhead to destroy them. To do this, the 57th Panzer Corps (formerly known as Nehring Group) and the 39th Panzer Corps would be used. However, like the Russians, these German forces were not remotely like in their glory days and full strength, but depleted.
57th Panzer Corps
- 8th Panzer Division (38 PzIV, 18 PzV, 9 PzJg38, 14 AT guns)
- 16th Panzer Division (8 PzIV, 13 PzV, 17 PzIV, 36 STG, 11 PzJg38, 8 88mm)
- 408 infantry division (5-6 battalions)
- Pz Brigade 103 (12 STG, 7 PzV)
- Fuhrer Escort Division (40 PzIV, 20 PzV, 29 STG)
- Elements from 21st PzKG (32 PzIV, 34 PzV)
39th Panzer Corps
- 17th Panzer Division (10 PzIV, 20 PzV)
- Fuhrer Grenadier Division (5 PzIV, 17 PzV, 33 STG)
- 6th VG infantry Division (9 JgPz 38, 3 88mm, 12 PzIV)
Gorlitz was defended by 5 battalions and artillery. While the offensive did not officially start on March 2, most of these units were already fighting the advancing Russian forces on February 18, when 8th Panzer arrived to hold off the 7th Gd Tank Corps and 6th VG Division along with Pz 103 held Lauban at all costs. The 9th Mechanized Corps was also in the area and at Lowenberg facing some of the 57th Pz Corps. The Russian 6th Gd Tank Corps had arrived closer to the Gorlitz area and faced the 39th Pz Corps.
By the 20th, the German 10th Panzer-Grenadier Division KG had arrived near Lowenberg to strengthen the weak 408 division. The Russian added more staying power on the 22nd, when the 254th Division arrived to help the weakened 6th Gd Tank Corps. By now, the Russians had seized the train station in Lauban despite the fanatical fighting from the Germans. On the 23rd, German reinforcements arrived: 1461 Regiment and 55th MG battalion at Lauban. The Russians then countered when their 214th Division arrived on the 28th. None of the Russian forces were having an easy time against the Germans and this was recognized by the Russian high command.
As a lull set in, the German operation was planned and forces gathered despite fuel and ammo shortages and Russian aircraft. The operation was Top Secret, so much so that the commander of the 6th VG in Lauban was not told until the day of the attack, March 2.
The offensive went well until about the 5th. The German plan to encircle much of the 3rd Tank Army failed as it was just too much, however, a smaller pocket had encircled and by some accounts, over 200 Russian AFVs had been destroyed, while the Germans had only a few losses. The 8th Panzer claimed over 150 AFVs destroyed, while the 17th Panzer, some 80 tanks were destroyed. Other accounts show the Russians had lost 162 tanks, 160 Assault guns. The offensive ended by the 8th, had gained only a six miles. Lauban stayed in the German hands but no offensive to relieve Breslau ever happened. It was just a spasm on the grand scale of things.
Much of the 3rd Tank Army had been destroyed and it was withdrawn and replenished before going to Berlin. As for the German losses, one Panzer division noted that it had 5 losses and 20 damaged tanks. In other words, a tank loss of 25. When your tank strength is just 50 to begin with and you lose 50%, some may not be repaired due to parts and time (as was the case) it is severe. The Russians easily replaced their losses, the Germans had none left.
That says it all in 1945.
perrya (author) on February 19, 2020:
Yes, for the Germans the turning point was at Kursk, 1943. After that, it was a gradual pushing back by the Russians that only got worse at 1944 arrived.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 19, 2020:
I have heard much about the western front, but only a little about the eastern front. This fills in some of the detail. I knew that trying to fight on 2 fronts was a big factor in the outcome of the war.